Manhunter

Manhunter

It was Michael Mann directing, just off the out-of-left-field success of Thief and the current irresistible force behind the number one television drama on TV, a pastel wonderland called Miami Vice. It was William Petersen, just off the lead in To Live an Die in LA, and after this role it would be a long time before he’d raise his profile to these heights again, with a little something on CBS called CSI: Crime Scene Investigation. The source material was from Thomas Harris and he was pretty much at his peak when he wrote the book Red Dragon. Hannibal Lecktor (they spell it different in this one) is Bryan Cox, and film fanatic message boards to this very minute pulsate with comments on how his version of the iconic cannibal “wipes up the floor” with Sir Anthony Hopkins’ portrayal of the exact same character in Silence Of The Lambs. I say there’s room for both. It’s a role that begs not be screwed around with, and Cox, with his permanent wince and gum-chewing jocularity, is not screwing around. One can’t say the same for ‘ol Tony in the misguided Lambs sequels. The bogeyman the two are trying to catch goes by the name “The Tooth Fairy” and Tom Noonan’s characterization of this unhinged giant will give you nightmares whether you are 9 or 99.

The film is beautifully shot, but that should surprise no one. Michael Mann is sometimes accused of being facile and unnecessarily “pretty,” but why go to movies at all if you don’t want to be accosted by wonderful imagery. Making a Florida beach look staggering is one thing, doing the same for Atlanta and St. Louis quite another. Every frame Mann shoots is mesmerizing. There is a scene featuring a blind woman, a tranquilized tiger and the serial killer himself that is absolutely unforgettable. The soundtrack is top-notch, Mann has always had an innate understanding of how to use music to supplement his vision–not every filmmaker has this gift.

It’s not perfect. The overblown role the National Tattler plays in the scheme of things is pretty ridiculous. There is also a cameo by Chris Elliot as a poker-faced G-Man that is as startling and inappropriate as a scrubs-clad Carrot Top bursting into someone’s dying grandmother’s hospital room with a tray of chicken pot pie, veggie mix, and chocolate milk as the family gathers around for her last breath.

In the end, when I go to IMDB and look at Michael Mann’s output, I don’t see enough. Thief, this movie, Heat, and of course the two television series Miami Vice and Crime Story are all monumental. Collateral and Ali were silly, the Miami Vice movie completely worthless. I haven’t seen The Insider or Last of the Mohicans. Still, I feel there should have been much, much more. And maybe there still will be–he’s only 71, after all. Er, well, maybe there won’t. But Manhunter is worth seeking out.

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Big Black

big black

When you’re young, hey, money’s tight, and the “act” of buying a 6 song EP was physically a hard thing to do. The darn EPs were only a couple bucks cheaper than buying an LP, some of which, if they happened to be named What Makes A Man Start Fires? could contain as many as 18 songs. So to pay “almost as much” for far less songs seemed a right bit of foolishness. But Big Black was a band name that conjured up everything its inventors wanted, Racer X was a cult hero recognized immediately by those with an undying love of 70’s mid-afternoon Japanese cartoons, and the cover art (which has seemingly been supplanted by something 1/100th as good on all the reissues) caught and held the eye like a bikini-clad Christy Canyon showing up at a 7th grade swim meet. And maybe, somewhere in the gentle hum of your day to day life you’d heard some “good things” about this band.

So you buy it and and haul it home and drop the needle and Roland starts making noises like a small colony of Sasquatch doing a square dance, some singer for a band with a goofy name called Naked Raygun starts thrumming his bass like each string on it weighs about 40 lbs, and then some skinny fanzine writer starts mumbling about the Speed Racer family and some of the domestic travails they suffered through. Fine, and then what? Well, and then two guitars start slicing and dicing their way from speaker to earhole and they never, ever stop. This was the signature, no matter how many trailer park-level tales of woe Steve Albini saw fit to confabulate. It was always about those goddamn guitars. Big Black was the only group ever able to construct the actual Whirling Hall of Knives The Butthole Surfers once mentioned and they did it with their guitars.

The whole shebang was a slam dunk, a golazo, a hole-in-one on a 233 yard par 3 that carries over sewage water. It was everything you ever wanted and by the time they pulled the plug on themselves, just like Budd Dwyer did, by breaking up immediately upon the 1987 release of Songs About Cuddling, they were at a peak few bands would/will ever reach. A perfect band.

Haha, and Alien Jourgensen, who lived in the very same town, for God’s sake, still has the prevaricating temerity to say he “never heard of dose guys.” Roland himself should plant a nice big kick drum boot in that dude’s nutsack.